'Alone', a poem by Maya Angelou recounts a moment in all our lives when we lie awake at night with a soul niggle that asks, "How to find my soul a home..where water is not thirsty and bread loaf is not stone?"
And then comes the wisdom with her smashing punchline,"I came up with one thing..
And I don't believe I'm wrong. That nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone.
Alone, all alone. Nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone."
The thing however is that Maya Angelou did spin the straw of her life into gold. Alone. Almost. She is old now but is still writing and still living. Both are peak experiences for her. No half measures. No compromises. No cop outs. An overwhelming sense of power though that comes from not leaning but standing erect and eyeballing the odds. There is some alchemy of elements in her writing that takes pain and turns it into a song on wings. You expect nothing less from a little girl who did not talk for four years post a traumatic sexual assault at the age of eight and one day became the voice of the African American woman.
``You will hear the regal woman, the mischievous street girl; you will hear the price of black woman's survival and you will hear of her generosity. Black, bitter, and beautiful, she speaks of our survival" is how a critic once described Angelou’s writing voice. If her writing is the sum of her life choices, what a life it must have been. And it was because it shows us that only if live your own truth can you really live. It shows that women have the right to make mistakes and to learn from them. That women cannot be defined by expectations or by their circumstances but only by the choices they make.
So the child of divorced parents, victim of sexual abuse, school drop out, single mother and a cable car conductor went on to become a night club performer, opera singer, college graduate, broadway performer, playwright, poet, actress, film director and novelist. Married twice and divorced, Angelou has lived without excuses. Without guilt, Without fear. Everytime she appears on the Oprah Winfrey show, it is a treat to hear that rousing black-coffee voice.
Sometime in 2005, Angelou recalled on the show, a time when she was juggling two jobs, single motherhood, poverty and hopelessness in a two room house. She was only 20 and adrift, abusive and at the end of her tether. Her mother however always took time to cook for her once a week and Angelou recalled, ``every grain of that rice she cooked used to say `I Love You’ to me. Once when I was leaving, my mother told me, ``Baby…I think you are the greatest woman in the world.’’ It was a moment that changed everything. Recalled Angelou, ``I paused and thought to myself…it must be true. Maybe I can be somebody and maybe it is time I became that somebody.” And so a single affirmation turned Angelou’s life around.
So maybe, when she says that we cannot make it alone, what she means is simply this. We can walk alone on our journey to selfhood just like she did but we all can do with a vindicative smile of faith, a message that says, "I see you" from someone who can look at all our flaws and also the beauty of an existence, yet unlived shining through.
I wonder at the insight and the love of the woman who saw in her messed up little girl, the seeds of greatness and did not preach or undermine her struggle but with one loving sentence, set her free from her pain, from her past and sent her off to claim her greatness. Unconditional hope can be uplifting, life altering. How many of us get it? How many of us give it?